Know your audience.
Know, too, that most politicians strive to tell their audiences what they want to hear.
And with South Carolina voters now at the peak of our president-picking power, White House candidates are trying to “stay on message” with pitches calibrated for what they perceive to be our policy preferences.
Of course, after the S.C. Republican (Feb. 20) and Democratic (Feb. 27) primaries, we will be largely ignored in the White House race.
The GOP ticket has won South Carolina nine straight times, usually by large margins. That leaves scant incentive for either major party to spend general-election time and money here.
The same post-primary neglect applies to three dozen or so more states that have been locks for either Republicans or Democrats in this century.
So we should flex our primary-season muscle — while we still can — to deliver this crucial message of our own to those who seek our support for the presidency:
Mind your manners while in our genteel midst.
We South Carolinians are widely admired for our courtly decorum. Our refined ways are especially ingrained here in the Holy City, repeatedly honored as America’s Most Polite City.
Yet we somehow retain our fundamental humility — an essential element of good manners.
So as you candidates clamor and bicker down our primary stretches, keep in mind that you’re no longer in Iowa or New Hampshire.
You’re in South Carolina, where an exalted respect for propriety endures.
OK, so Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Joe Bustos didn’t quite live up to our renowned deportment standards on Monday during the ongoing dispute about what has become known as “iconic” Shem Creek.
From consistently courteous colleague David Slade’s story in Tuesday’s Post and Courier:
Bustos “argued face to face in a confrontation that nearly became physical” with Billy Webb, an “older man.”
Let the collective embarrassment inflicted by that unseemly spectacle be another timely reminder that these pushy presidential candidates aren’t the only ones who should keep their cools during heated political debates.
We S.C. residents — particularly those of us in the Charleston area — also must be on our best behavior.
After all, we have a chance — nay, a duty — to show our next president, and those who will fall short of that goal, how to conduct themselves with dignity and chivalry.
1) Name the victor of the 1988 S.C. Democratic presidential caucus.
2) Name the top two finishers in the contested S.C. GOP presidential primaries.
3) Name the top two finishers in the contested S.C. Democratic presidential primaries.
4) Name the only non-White House incumbent to win the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire primary and S.C. primary in the same year.
5) Name the up-and-coming candidate whose bus was seen, by me, heading south on King Street at 2:45 Wednesday afternoon.
Donald Trump has never held elective office.
But he does hold a major 2016 presidential-race edge (so far) in that aforementioned, self-serving knack of telling voters what they want to hear — even if it sounds extremely far-fetched.
And Trump sounded like he was appealing directly to S.C. GOP voters Tuesday night in the glow of his lopsided New Hampshire primary triumph.
From his victory speech:
“We’re going to rebuild our military. It’s going to be so big, so strong, so powerful. Nobody is going to mess with us, believe me, nobody. Nobody.”
“We’re going to have borders again. And we’re going to work with you people to help you solve that very big problem. And we’ll get it done.”
“We’re repealing and replacing Obamacare. It’s gone.”
“We’re getting rid of Common Core. We’re going to educate our children locally.”
“We are going to preserve our very sacred Second Amendment. ... France has the toughest gun laws in the world. These animals go in. They start shooting, one, two, three, 130 people. With many people horribly wounded. Horribly wounded right now in the hospital. If there were bullets going in the other direction, believe me, it would’ve been a whole different story, folks.”
“I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created. Remember that.”
And: “We are going now to South Carolina. We are going to win in South Carolina.”
Was that last one a threat or a promise?
1) Jesse Jackson finished first, with Al Gore second.
2) 1980—Ronald Reagan first, John Connally second; 1988—George H.W. Bush first, Bob Dole second; 1992—Bush first, Pat Buchanan second; 1996—Dole first, Pat Buchanan second; 2000—George W. Bush first, John McCain second; 2008: McCain first, Mike Huckabee second; 2012—Newt Gingrich first, Mitt Romney second.
3) 1992—Bill Clinton first, Paul Tsongas second; 2000—Al Gore first, Bill Bradley second; 2004—John Edwards first, John Kerry second; 2008—Barack Obama first, Hillary Clinton second.
4) Gore in 2000.
5) John Kasich.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.